Updated: 1850 hrs, June 1st
"We have more numbers there than people realize. We may have great players in building and they haven't had chance to show us."
Those words by Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau summed up why the team did not select one of the top-level cornerback in the first round of this year's NFL Draft that many expected them to select. Especially when Darqueze Dennard, about whom we wrote as our favorite going into the draft, was sitting there as a fully-ripened fruit ready to be picked.
The Steelers' coaches, however, simply didn't feel that their secondary was as dire a situation as it seemed on the surface. Defensive backs coach Carnell Lake agreed with LeBeau that CB wasn't as pressing a need as perceived. He specifically said that Brice McCain and Antwon Blake will help Steelers.
Add to that, CB Deion Belue, an undrafted free agent out of Alabama that the Steelers claimed off of waivers (Dolphins), and Devin Smith and Isaiah Green and you have those who will be battling for a backup role.
Blake, a UTEP product, falls into the "he's not small, he's short" category in which head coach Mike Tomlin placed rookie running back Dri Archer. He's 5'9", 198 LBs but did 21 repetitions of the 225-pound bench press at his 2012 Pro Day. He also ran a 4.32/40, and is the gunner on Steelers special teams. Rather than a player expected to get snaps in the Steelers' defense, that's where his greatest value is. As for McCain, we wrote about his potential when he was signed back in April. - http://ifitaintsteel.blogspot.com/2014/04/steelers-sign-brice-mccain-bring-in.html
Belue (5'11", 182 LBs) had a turf toe injury which hindered his senior season, but he played well in the 2012 National Championship game against Notre Dame. He's wiry, strong for his size and has good enough speed (4.47/40). A slot man who can occasionally line up out side, Belue has a chance at the practice squad.
Devin Smith and Isaiah Green should be familiar to Steelers fan as the two CBs who were on and off of the practice squad all of last season.
The Steelers finally did address the need for depth at cornerback, though, by selecting Arizona's Shaquille Richardson (6'0", 194 LBs) in the fifth round.
The former Wildcat has versatility, length and a good frame. He looks mainly to be a right CB, but also played a safety/rover position and in the slot in some subpackages. He's also fast (4.43/40), quick and agile, but not physical. He'd rather cut a runner rather than wrap him up, and also tends to squat to much which can affect his backpedal.
Lake's familiarity with Richardson, having helped recruit Richardson to UCLA, is intriguing and he could very well be a diamond in the rough with Lake's guidance.
“I remember Coach Lake being someone I can look up to,” said Richardson, who was also a teammate of Robert Golden at Arizona. “I'm happy to be learning from him and being a Pittsburgh Steeler. It's crazy.”
Lake praised Richardson as well.
“He's a smart, young corner who can come in and contribute,” said Lake. “He gives us good size out there and somebody that has the ability to put a lot of pressure on tall receivers that have been drafted in the last few years.”
Then there are your starters and main substitute, Cortez Allen, Ike Taylor and William Gay, with Gay receiving praise for his play last season. - http://tinyurl.com/kst23t3
Taylor's play was the expect opposite last season, rated by PFF as 107th out of 111 CBs. Something of which is keenly aware.
“I feel after these last two years,” Taylor said, “especially after last year, that I have lot to prove. I feel like I have more to prove than ever.”
Tez Allen had a similar season to his 2012 campaign. He didn't play much of the first half of the season due to injuries, but made his presence felt late in the season. Starting the final seven games, he finished the year with 51 tackles, two interceptions and a touchdown.
Also, one of the most important things to remember is that Taylor isn't following the opponent's best receiver. That responsibility has fallen more to Tez. That disallowed the top WRs from having career days on Taylor and saw a slight increase in coverage, causing the Steelers' pass defense to finish 9th in the NFL giving up 222.1 yards per game.
Free agent acquisition Mike Mitchell will help complement the rest of the safeties, plus an expected improved pass rush from the front seven, as pressure on the quarterback throws off timing (routes) and helps create turnovers, will lead to improving the pass defense.
Per OverTheCap.com, the Steelers have $357,896 under the Salary Cap as of Sunday, June 1st, a day when there is no loss of compensatory picks for free agents signed. - http://overthecap.com/nfl-rookie-salary-cap-2014.php
As of Monday, June 2nd, the $8 million freed up by the release of LaMarr Woodley will be available. Displacement dictates, though, that his release will be closer to $7.5 million in cap space.
Still, that will be more than enough to sign the remaining four selections from the draft. Sixth-round draft pick DL Daniel McCullers and seventh rounder TE Rob Blanchflower were signed on May 19th, fifth-round draft pick Wesley Johnson and sixth-round pick Jordan Zumwalt on May 27th and fifth-round draft pick CB Shaquille Richardson on May 29th. All were signed to a four-year deals.
None of these picks actually counted against the Cap because of said displacement and the Rule of 51. The top four picks will even displace four players currently counting against the cap out of the top 51.
So, expect the amount used to sign those top four to be less than $3 million (at least $750,000-$1 million less than the amount first reported that we previously covered). That leaves well over $5 million to be spent on another free agent or two with plenty left afterward.
UPDATE: I've since come across more exact numbers brought to light by fellow scribe Neal Coolong of Behind The Steel Curtain. The Cool One wrote that the exact number Woodley's release frees up after displacement is "$7.505" million and that the Steelers' Cap cost for the aforemetioned rookies is "$2,018,643." So, as The Cool One wrote, "let's call it $5.48 million in Cap space after the remainder of the rookie class is signed."